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The Guessing Game: Projecting the Angels’ 2010 Season

The calendar has now flipped to April, which means we’re now only a handful of days away from getting back into the full swing of Major League Baseball.

Here are some reasonable expectations of production that I see out of our guys in red.

The Lineup

I’m no Mike Scioscia, but here’s my best guess at what the Opening Day lineup card will look like:

1.) SS – Erick Aybar

2.) RF – Bobby Abreu

3.) CF – Torii Hunter

4.) DH – Hideki Matsui

5.) 1B – Kendry Morales

6.) LF – Juan Rivera

7.) 2B – Howie Kendrick

8.) C – Mike Napoli (with plenty of Jeff Mathis appearances as well)

9.) 3B – Brandon Wood

Let’s take a look at what these guys should do, in my mind at least.

Erick Aybar

Last year’s line: 137 games- .312 avg./.353 OBP/70 runs/5 HR/58 RBI/14 SB

Aybar had a fantastic 2009 campaign both at the plate and with the glove. There were stretches where Aybar was the most torrid hitter in all of the MLB (hit a league-best .414 in the month of July). There also were stretches where he didn’t hit so well, but that’s what we have come to see from EA, some inconsistency at the plate. But last year, the good outweighed the bad, and plenty of people felt Erick got robbed of a Gold Glove (Derek Jeter won the award). This year, Aybar won’t be batting 9th like he did most of last season. With the departure of Chone Figgins, the leadoff spot is Aybar’s heading in to Opening Day. He’s a slap hitter with good wheels, but the question remains if he will have good enough plate discipline to be an adequate leadoff guy. I’m not quite sold on Aybar being a 100+ run scorer (OBP was 42 points lower than Figgy’s was last season), but hey, prove me wrong Erick. Wouldn’t be a bad thing.

My 2010 projected line: .295 avg./.350 OBP/90 runs/7 HR/65 RBI/20 SB

Bobby Abreu

Last year’s line: 152 games- .293 avg./.390 OBP/96 runs/15 HR/103 RBI/30 SB

Bobby Abreu proved to be a beautiful addition to the Angels lineup in 2009, as his top-notch plate discipline and ability to consistently work a count rubbed off on plenty of Angel hitters, Chone Figgins especially (drew 101 walks last year, previous career-best was 65). Although Abreu is getting up there in age (turned 36 back in March), he’s proved that he can still be a run-producer (topped 100+ RBI for 8th time in career) and a threat on the basepaths (has averaged just about 28 steals per year since 2005). He was the lefty bat the Angels had been searching for since 2004, and the Angels were smart to keep him around after his steal of a 1-year deal last season. Abreu will benefit from having Hunter, Matsui, and Morales behind him, and could be up there at the top of the AL in runs scored when September is over. Expect another productive year out of Mr. Abreu.

My 2010 projected line: .290 avg./.380 OBP/105 runs/20 HR/100 RBI/25 SB

Torii Hunter

Last year’s line: 119 games- .299 avg./.366 OBP/74 runs/22 HR/90 RBI/18 SB

Torii had some injury setbacks as the season went on, he had been one of the names mentioned as one of the AL’s first-half MVPs. If you average out Torii’s numbers to that of a 150-game season, you’re looking at about 28 homers, 113 RBI and 93 runs scored. Numbers like those will deservingly earn you a little bit of MVP chatter. Torii set new career-bests in batting average (.299), on-base percentage (.366), and brought in his 9th straight Gold Glove with his exceptional play in center. Another year with Bobby Abreu most likely batting in front of Torii will do him plenty of good, and he’ll have plenty of run-producing situations at the plate in 2010. He’ll also benefit from having Hideki Matsui and KMo to clean up behind him, and the threat of those two power bats should make pitchers be a little more honest when they throw to Torii. Although I feel his batting average will dip a little closer to his .274 career mark, I still expect Torii to build on his fantastic ’09 campaign with an even better run-producing 2010 season.

My 2010 projected line: .285 avg./.360 OBP/90 runs/25 HR/100 RBI/20 SB

Hideki Matsui

Last year’s line: 142 games- .274 avg./.367 OBP/62 runs/28 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Mark this as the 2nd straight offseason that the Angels picked up an unwanted Yankee (with the last one being the man batting in the 2-spot, Bobby Abreu). After spending the last 7 seasons with the Yankees, Matsui went out on a high note as a World Champion, and even brought in a World Series MVP trophy to add to it. Matsui turns 36 in mid-June and can be a reliable run-producer when healthy. However, Matsui hasn’t been able to piece together back-to-back full seasons since he played every game from 2003-2005. His games played from 2006 to 2009 respectively are as follows: 51, 143, 93, 142. Based on his 7-year statistics playing for New York, a typical 162 game season from Matsui averages out to a .292 average, .370 on-base percentage, 25 homers and 106 RBI… not too shabby. The transition from the right field power alley in the Bronx to the high wall in Anaheim will surely knock down would-be home runs in Yankee Stadium, but Matsui should have plenty of extra-base hits this year if he can stay healthy for 140 or so games and get some starts in the outfield as well.

My 2010 projected line: .270 avg./.365 OBP/60 runs/22 HR/95 RBI/0 SB

Kendry Morales

Last year’s line: 152 games- .306 avg./.355 OBP/86 runs/34 HR/108 RBI/3 SB

What a coming out party 2009 was for Kendry Morales. After spending years trying to defect from his native country of Cuba, KMo exploded onto the scene in his first full year as a regular, and ended up finishing 5th in American League MVP voting. He finished in the AL’s top 6 in categories such as: home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, extra base hits, and total bases. Everyone in the Angels system knew he could hit, but fielding had always been the biggest bugaboo regarding Kendry’s game. How did he do defensively in ’09? He had a fielding percentage of .994 and was fantastic in turning the 3-6-3 double play. Additionally, Kendry led the team in homers and runs driven in, and even posted the highest on-base plus slugging percentage mark by an Angels first baseman in franchise history with a .924 mark (8th in the AL). However, I’ve just had the feeling that KMo is due for a sophomore slump. I know the talent is through the roof with Kendry, but he’s still got a ways to go to prove that he can be a legitimate MVP candidate year after year and not just have last year be a fluke. Teams are going to know how to approach him much better this year, and the pitching has only gotten stronger in the AL West (King Felix and Cliff Lee in Seattle, Oakland’s young arms are progressing + Ben Sheets, Texas brought in Mr. Can-Be-Good-When-Healthy Rich Harden), so a dropoff in 2010 seems likely in my eyes.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.345 OBP/80 runs/30 HR/100 RBI/5 SB

Juan Rivera

Last year’s line: 138 games- .287 avg./.332 OBP/72 runs/25 HR/88 RBI/0 SB

Going in to 2009, I felt some good vibes about what Juan Rivera would do and thankfully those vibes held to be true. In his first full year as a regular with the Halos since 2006, Rivera posted career-bests in hits (152), homers (25), RBI (88), and runs scored (72). He also played fantastic defensive in left field and still has a cannon of an arm (10 outfield assists ranked 3rd amongst regular MLB left fielders). Much like Erick Aybar, Rivera had his fair share of major hot and cold streaks (had 5 homers, 19 RBI through first 2 months, had 8 homers, 24 RBI in the following month). Despite the streakiness, Juan still proved to be one of the more unheralded hitters in the MLB last year, ranking in the top 20 for homers and RBI among all MLB outfielders. I feel a comparable year is in order for Juan, and I think having a second year of consistent everyday at-bats can only benefit him.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.330 OBP/75 runs/25 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Howie Kendrick

Last year’s line: 105 games- .291 avg./.334 OBP/61 runs/10 HR/61 RBI/11 SB

In my mind, this is a make-or-break year for Mr. Kendrick. For years we’ve heard all about how great he hit in the minors (.360 combined average through all levels of the minor leagues) and how he can be a guy who will win a batting title during his, but it’s time to see what all the hype has been about, because frankly, there’s just been something missing with Howie’s game. Sure, through over 350 games in his professional career his batting average is a couple ticks over .300, but he hasn’t been able to piece together a full season in any of his 4 years in the bigs. Last year he played in a career-best 105 games, and had only played in 92, 88, and 72 games in the ’08, ’07, and ’06 seasons respectively prior to last year. And when it comes to be playoff time, it’s as if Howie shuts down completely (.196 average in 46 postseason at-bats). If he can put a full season together, he can be one of the better hitting 2nd basemen in the league. He can go gap-to-gap when he hits and does a great job of utilizing all fields with his line drive approach. The jury is out on Howie Kendrick this year, but he’s not the only one that’ll be under the microscope in the Angels’ everyday lineup this year (see Brandon Wood).

My 2010 projected line: .310 avg./.345 OBP/15 HR/70 RBI/70 runs/15 SB

Mike Napoli

Last year’s line: 114 games- .272 avg/.350 OBP/20 HR/56 RBI/60 runs/3 SB

Big Nap made it back-to-back 20 homer seasons despite being in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system behind the plate again. Nap accounted for 43 extra-base hits last year in his first season of appearing in 100+ games. Statistically speaking, his home run ratio dipped a bit (20 homers in 227 at-bats in 2008, 20 home runs in 382 at-bats in 2009), but Napoli showed that he belonged in the lineup by being 1 of 6 catchers (despite having anywhere from 100 to 200 less at-bats than everyday catchers) to account for 20+ homers and 20+ doubles on the 2009 season (list includes MVP Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Brian McCann, and former Angel Bengie Molina). As we’ve come to see over the past several years, Napoli brings the lumber and Jeff Mathis brings the glove, which is the reason for this platoon system that Scioscia has implemented and stuck with. I really think this is the final year that the Angels have to decide who their everyday catcher is going to be, it’s got to be one or the other. If Nap improves his defense, the decision won’t even be close. But, if Jeff Mathis can live up to his 1st round potential (drafted 33rd overall back in 2001) and hit like he did in this past postseason, he’ll give Nap a run for his money.

My 2010 projected line: .265 avg./.345 OBP/25 HR/60 RBI/60 runs/2 SB

Brandon Wood

Last year’s line: 18 games- .195 avg./.267 OBP/1 HR/3 RBI/5 runs/0 SB

This is the guy all Halo fans will be watching closely this year. Like Howie, Angel fans have heard plenty about this Brandon Wood kid, and how great of a hitter he is. He tore it up through the minor league ranks, but once he got to the show, he had nothing to show. In 224 major league at-bats, he’s posted a dismal .192 average, 7 home runs and 19 RBI. Not what you’d expect out of a former first-rounder who once hit 43 homers in A-ball and accounted for 160 home runs over his 7 seasons in the minors. Granted, Wood has never had the opportunity that he will have entering this year: an everyday job that will allow him to get consistent at-bats. In all fairness, before Kendry’s first year as an everyday player, he garnered up a .249 average in the three partial seasons in the majors that led up to his breakout year. It’s amazing what consistent at-bats will do, and it’s all about getting into a rhythm, something Brandon hasn’t yet had the chance to do. Don’t expect the world from Woody, but average numbers are about what you can expect from him.

My 2010 projected line: .245 avg./.310 OBP/20 HR/60 RBI/55 runs/10 SB

That’s about what you can expect from the projected regulars, now let’s switch over to the guys on the mound.

The Pitching

We’ll start with the starting rotation, which (not really in any particular order) will probably look like:

1.) Jered Weaver

2.) Joe Saunders

3.) Scott Kazmir

4.) Ervin Santana

5.) Joel Pineiro

Although the Angels may not have the best top of the rotation (that belongs to Seattle’s tandem of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the Angels definitely have the deepest rotation from top to bottom. The rotation features 3 former All-Stars (Saunders, Kazmir, Santana), the team’s best pitcher from last year (Weaver), and a guy who could become the best #5 starter in the league (Pineiro). Now, let’s get to the dissecting of this Angels staff.

Jered Weaver

Last year’s line: 33 starts/211 innings pitched/16-8 record/3.75 ERA/174 K

Weaver was the team’s best pitcher last year, tying for the team lead in wins (16) with Joe Saunders and had the lowest ERA of all Angels starting pitchers. Weaver posted his lowest ERA since he became a full-time starter (excluding his ’06 rookie campaign where he started 19 games, winning 11 of them), and posted his best numbers as a full-time starter in strikeouts, innings, batting average against (.246), pitches per inning (16.1), and hits per 9 innings (8.4). Additionally, Weaver threw 4 complete games (hadn’t thrown one CG in prior 3 seasons), 2 of those being shutouts. Entering his 4th year as a full-time starter, Weaver looks to be the odds-on choice in being the Opening Day starter, and has garnered in 40 wins in the last 3 seasons overall. I look for Weaver to have another solid year of 15+ wins and I feel he’ll continue to lower that ERA.

My 2010 projected line: 205 innings pitched/17-10 record/3.60 ERA/180 K

Joe Saunders

Last year’s line: 31 starts/186 innings pitched/16-7 record/4.60 ERA/101 K

Saunders had battled problems in his throwing arm for the majority of the year, but finished incredibly strong. He started the year 5-1, would go 4-6 in his next 10 decisions, and then finish the year winning his final 6 decisions to move to 16-7 on the year. Saunders pitched through his shoulder problems until he needed to shut it down, which is the main culprit for his ERA being nearly 1 1/5 runs higher than it was the season before in which he made the All-Star team. In his Angel career, Saunders is 48-22, and no Angel has more wins in the past 2 seasons than Saunders’ 33. Not John Lackey, who signed with the Red Sox for $82.5 million, not even Jered Weaver who is going to be tabbed as the team’s #1 rotation. When it comes down to it, Joe Saunders just knows how to flat out win. I look for that trend to continue this year as well, I see another season over 16 wins for Saunders with a much better ERA than last year’s inflated 4.60 mark.

My 2010 projected line: 200 innings pitched/18-9 record/4.10 ERA/100 K

Ervin Santana

Last year’s line: 23 starts/193.2 innings pitched/8-8 record/5.03 ERA/107 K

Ervin wasn’t healthy for the full season, but no matter how you look at it, his 2009 season was a great disappointment compared to his 2008 All-Star season (16-7 record, 3.49 ERA, 219 innings pitched). Much like I mentioned earlier about Hideki Matsui being unable to piece together back-to-back full seasons in recent years, Ervin has been the same way in regards to having good seasons and bad seasons. In 2006 he went 16-8, in 2007 he went 7-14, in 2008 he went 16-7, and last year he went 8-8. Is this season going to follow the trend of having a good year? Ervin sure hopes so, and so does the Angels front office considering Ervin repaid the management with an ERA over 5 after they gave him a healthy new 4-year, $30-million deal. It’s time for Ervin to show that he’s worth the money, but I’m not sold on him channeling that 2008 form just yet.

My 2010 projected line: 180 innings pitched/14-11 record/4.40 ERA/160 K

Scott Kazmir

Last year’s line: 26 starts/147.1 innings pitched/10-9 record/4.89 ERA/117 K

Kazmir came over to the Angels late in the 2009 season, and pitched very well in his limited action in Halo red (1.73 ERA in 6 starts). Only a couple of years ago, Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts with 239, and was beaten out by Jake Peavy by 1 punchout for the league lead. That was when Kazmir’s slider was one of the league’s most devastating pitches, but in 2009, his slider simply didn’t slide. If pitching coach Mike Butcher can help Kazmir find that slider, and he can find the form he had when he made the All-Star team back in 2006 and 2008, Kazmir has an excellent chance of re-establishing himself as one of the league’s preeminent strikeout pitchers. Kazmir is a real sleeper pick to be one of the AL’s better pitchers, considering he has 5 full seasons under his belt and he’s still only 26. He knows what success tastes like, and as I could imagine, is eager to get back to his winning ways.

My 2010 projected line: 175 innings pitched/15-10 record/3.90 ERA/150 K

Joel Pineiro

Last year’s line: 32 starts/214 innings pitched/15-12 record/3.49 ERA/105 K

At the age of 31, Pineiro caught a 2nd wind in his career last year with the St. Lous Cardinals, posting the most wins in a season for him since 2003, and putting up his lowest ERA since 2002. Pineiro’s 214 innings pitched was a career-high for him as well. He started his career in the AL West, playing with the Seattle Mariners from 2000-2006, and was at his best with the M’s during 2002 and 2003 when he posted 30 total wins and had an ERA in the 3.50s over those 2 seasons. However, in his final 3 seasons with the Mariners, Pineiro went 21-35 with ERAs of 4.67, 5.62, and 6.36 respectively. Plenty of critics are saying that Joel Pineiro’s 2009 season was a fluke, and I have to admit I’m not sold on Pineiro either. The Halos brought him in with a 2-year, $16-million deal, a hefty amount to be paying a #5 starter. However, if he throws the way he did under Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan, 15 wins would be a fantastic total to get out of your end-of-the-rotation arm. If Pineiro can master that new slider, he can be an excellent groundball-inducing pitcher, and chew up more than his fair share of innings. Last year was the first time since 2003 that Pineiro had more than 8 wins in a season, so will his 2010 campaign prove that last season was a fluke or a true finding of a 2nd wind?

My 2010 projected line: 12-13/190 innings/4.30 ERA/100 K

And lastly, moving away from the guys who start the games, let’s look at the guy who will start the year closing the games for the Angels.

Brian Fuentes

Last year’s line: 65 appearances/1-5 record/3.93 ERA/48 saves/7 blown saves

To say Brian Fuentes had a shaky 2009 would be an understatement. Fuentes always got my heart rate up when he’d come in for the save in the 9th inning. One way or another, Fuentes couldn’t quite dominate game in and game out, he always had to make it interesting. Whether it would be giving up a couple walks or a couple hits, it always seemed to be a little too close for comfort. After spending the previous 7 seasons in Colorado, he posted his highest season ERA (3.93) since 2004. However, he set a career-high with his 48 saves, which also happened to be the best mark in all of Major League Baseball. On the flip side, his 7 blown saves was tied for the 4th worst mark in all of baseball. I look for Fuentes to settle in better this year. Maybe he won’t get as many saves, but I look for that ERA to go down, as well as those blown saves.

My 2010 projected line: 3-4 record/3.50 ERA/35 saves/4 blown saves

Those are my takes on what to expect out of the 2010 everyday Angel players, starting pitchers, and closer. I hope you get a good feel on what to expect out of our guys in red this year, and now it’s just a matter of counting down the hours till the ceremonial first pitch.

Here’s to a successful 2010 season, and hopefully another AL West crown!

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Filed under Angel Stories, Offseason

A New Season Awaits

It feels like it’s been forever since the Angels last were on the diamond, but thankfully Spring Training is upon us and Opening Day is within reach for our beloved Halos.

A new season awaits Angels fans with a barrage of questions and a lack of familiar faces to go with it.

Who’s Out

Chone Figgins

Figgy had his eyes on the Emerald City as the Seattle Mariners gave him a healthy 4-year, $36 million dollar contract (no more Gettin’ Figgy Wit It? … this still disheartens me greatly). Losing a lethal run scorer and leadoff hitter who greatly improved his eye at the plate (from 62 walks in ’08 to 101 in ’09) will be a loss the Angels will definitely feel if the streaky and slap-happy Erick Aybar (or whoever may hit first) can’t adequately hold down the top of the order.

John Lackey

The Angels lost 2002 World Series hero John Lackey to the Red Sox when he signed a 5-year, $82.5 million contract back in mid-December. The Halos lost out on a guy who emerged as a workhorse, throwing 200+ innings from 2005 to 2007 until having injury-riddled starts to the 2008 and 2009 seasons. They’re also going to feel the void of a guy with passion on the mound as John was as fierce a competitor as they come.

Vladimir Guerrero

Another fan favorite and an MVP not too long ago, Vladimir Guerrero opted for the great state of Texas as he agreed to an incentive-laden 1-year, $5.5 million dollar deal. The man became the face of the franchise back in 2004 and solidified his spot in Angels lore after putting the team on his back down the stretch and beating out the Texas Rangers to become division champs that same year. Vladdy coincidentally won the MVP that year due in large part to his marvelous final week performance, and was a guy who had .300/30+ homers/100+ RBI potential the rest of the way through his Angels career until injuries started catching up to him.

In those 3 players, the Angels lost their #1 starter, their most versatile player/arguably their best defender, and the fan favorite who, even though he struggled with the bat in ’09 was still one of the most feared hitters in the game.

Not to mention the Angels also lost one of their better relievers in Darren Oliver, who posted a team-best 2.71 ERA in 73 innings of work. Over his 3-year Angel career, DO posted a 15-3 record with 40 holds and only 3 blown saves… not too shabby. Oliver will be going back to the team that he started his career with back in 1993, joining Vladdy in heading to the Texas Rangers.

But in all fairness, it’s not like the Angels were losing guys as they were entering their prime. Lackey is 31, Figgy turned 32 almost a month ago, Vladdy turned 35 earlier this month (but judging by the way he runs it looks like he’s twice as old and needs a walker to get around the bases), and Darren Oliver is 39.

The on-field production will be there, don’t get me wrong, but from a long-term point of view, it’s what had to be done at some point or another.

Oh, and who could fail to mention the unforgettable Gary Matthews Jr.? The Halos shipped him off to the New York Mets not too long ago, but it’s hard to say Matthews will be completely gone since the Angels still have to eat $21.5 of the $23.5 million dollars left on his contract. The ghost of Gary Matthews Jr. lives on! … as does the Angels’ severe case of buyer’s remorse.

Who’s In

Hideki Matsui

The Angels made it back-to-back years where they plucked out a guy off the New York Yankees’ roster, with last year being Bobby Abreu and this year being a man they call “Godzilla” (he also was named the World Series MVP for the Yankees after they took out the Phillies in 6). The Halos signed Matsui to a 1-year, $6.5-million dollar deal, and he will act as the guy who fills Vladdy’s production void. Over his 7-year career in pinstripes, Matsui had 4 years of 100+ RBI and hit .292 over that 7-year span. The Angels let Matsui know that they wanted to give him a chance to play in the outfield, making Anaheim his preferred destination after New York had no intentions of negotiating with him.

Thoughts and expectations:

No he’s not Matt Holliday. No he’s not Jason Bay. But he’s as good a value pickup as there was on the free agent market. Don’t expect the world of Matsui, but what he will bring is a power lefty bat to the order. He hit .274, jacked 28 homers and drove in 90 runs last year for the Yanks, so I’d expect comparable numbers in terms of batting average and runs driven in, but I’d see around 20-25 home runs due to going from the short porch in Yankee Stadium to the big wall in Angel Stadium that will undoubtedly knock down balls that would’ve been home runs if we were still playing in New York.

Joel Pineiro

A former American League West foe (with Seattle from 2000-2006), Pineiro had a bounce-back year with the St. Louis Cardinals in ’09. He compiled a 15-12 record, a 3.49 ERA, and had a career-best 214 innings pitched. His 15 wins were the most since 2003 and his season ERA is also the lowest since he finished ’03 at a 3.78 clip. The Angels inked Pineiro to a 2-year, $16-million dollar deal, as he was the best pitcher left on the market after Lackey left and the Angels missed out on dealing for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee.

Thoughts and expectations:

I’m not fully sold on him. Was 2009 an aberration or a case of Pineiro catching a 2nd wind in his career? Only time will tell, but what we do know is that Pineiro is a hurler who pitches to contact, resulting in a very low strikeout rate per 9 innings (career-low 4.22 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched last year), but consequently was one of the league’s best ground ball-inducing pitchers. The Angels did what they needed to do, and that was to get another pitcher after Lackey left for Beantown, and Pineiro happened to be that guy. Although not all Angel fans are satisfied with having him over a guy like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, the Angels were able to hold on to some important pieces in Erick Aybar, Joe Saunders/Ervin Santana, and up-and-comer Peter Bourjos who the Angels would have had to ship out to get one of those guys in return. While the Angels don’t have the best 1-2 punch in the AL West (the Mariners easily hold that title with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the Angels have the deepest rotation in the division, and adding Pineiro helped bolster a rotation that struggled mightily a year ago. If Pineiro can channel his 2009 stuff, this will be a fantastic addition and a great #4/#5 starter in the rotation, but if he reverts back to his old form, consider this another time the Angels bought up on a player after one good year out of nowhere (reference Gary Matthews Jr.).

Fernando Rodney

The Angels put $11 million into Rodney over the course of the next two seasons, after having been with the Tigers since 2002. Rodney became Detroit’s main closer in 2009, posting 37 saves to only 1 blown save. Rodney is a fireballer through and through, as he’s hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun plenty of times over his career, but what worries many is the high ERA and porous strikeout-to-walk ratio he has.

Thoughts and expectations:

I really think the Angels could have spent those $11 million dollars a little more wisely. For being a flamethrower, his strikeout rate dropped to its lowest mark in his last 6 seasons (7.26 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched). His ERA was 4.40 last year (that’s 47 points higher than Brian Fuentes’s mark of 3.93 last year… and we all know how many times he nearly gave us a heart attack when he took the mound). He’s only posted a sub-4.00 ERA twice in his career, none of which have come in the last 3 seasons. While his 37 of 38 save conversions is a nice statistic, we all know it’s not the mark of a great closer, considering Fuentes posted a league-best 48 saves last year and was as shaky a closer as there was in all of baseball. I’m not quite certain who is going to be the closer and who is going to be the setup man between Rodney and Fuentes, but one thing is for sure, pitching as Rodney did last year isn’t going to fill the void that the departure of Darren Oliver left. Not even close.

3 Under the Microscope

Last year, the 3 players who to me were the biggest question marks entering the season were Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar, and Juan Rivera. The much-hyped Morales had some big shoes to fill at 1st base, Aybar had a botched suicide squeeze in Boston still in his mind, and Juan Rivera was getting his first chance in a handful of years to get regular playing time in the outfield. What happened? All 3 produced much more than I could have asked of them. Morales finished 5th in American League MVP voting, Aybar (in my opinion) got robbed of a Gold Glove and marked his first season of a batting average over .300 (.312 on the year), and Juan Rivera posted new career highs in hits, runs, home runs, and RBI.

So who are the 3 to look for in 2010? Let’s get to it.

Brandon Wood

If there’s one player to watch this year it most certainly is Brandon Wood. He made more trips to and from Salt Lake that it seemed like Brandon Wood call-ups and send downs were daily occurrences. This year, there’s no more of that. He’s got 3rd base with his name all over it. Chone Figgins is gone, meaning it is finally his chance to prove what all the hype has been about ever since the Angels drafted him with the 23rd overall pick back in 2003. Wood tore up the minor leagues, but once he got to the majors, his bat was non-existent. In his time up in the majors, B-Wood has compiled some pretty miserable statistics… a career .192 hitter in the majors to go along with a .222 on-base percentage. And while his power hitting ability is something that stood out greatly in the minors (hit 43 home runs in 2005), he’s only hit 7 home runs in 224 career big league at-bats. It’s make or break time for Brandon Wood, no ifs ands or buts about it. While he won’t have a Kendry Morales-like impact on the team this year, he doesn’t need to, if he provides the Angels with a .260 average and 20+ home runs, that’s really all I think the Angels can ask of him.

Scott Kazmir

The late-season acquisition of Kazmir proved to benefit the Angels as he posted a 1.73 ERA in 6 starts with the Angels last year. 2009 was Kazmir’s worst as a full-time starter, with a season ERA (4.89) that was more than a full run higher than his previous career-worst (3.79 back in 2005, his first full year as an MLB starter). If Kazmir can find the grip and release point on his slider, he’s got one of baseball’s most devastating pitches in his arsenal. That’s a big if, considering he struggled with it all of last year, hence the ballooned ERA. Kazmir only turned 26 earlier this calendar year, and already has 5 full seasons of MLB service under his belt. Kazmir was an All-Star in 2006 and 2008… the calendar now shows 2010, does this mean he’s bound to be an All-Star again? Let’s hope history repeats itself in this case.

Ervin Santana

Much like Kazmir, his better years came in 2006 and 2008, but Santana’s performance has varied greatly from year-to-year during his Angels career.

Here’s a look at Santana’s last 4 seasons:

2006 (16-8, 4.28 ERA)

2007 (7-14, 5.76 ERA)

2008 (16-7, 3.49 ERA)

2009 (8-8, 5.03 ERA)

Entering a season, you’re either getting good Ervin or bad Ervin, one of the MLB’s better cases of Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome. Santana was fantastic in his 2008 All-Star season, and when the expectations were high for him entering 2009, he struggled all year long. This year, expectations are much lower, and maybe less of a spotlight on him is exactly what the doctor ordered. Like Kazmir, it’s an even-numbered year again, and 2010 will prove to be a big year for Ervin who is entering the 2nd year of a 4-year, $30 million dollar deal that so far has been wasted money. Time to prove you’re worth it, kid.

Not to be Overlooked

The Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli situation behind the plate.

Not this again. Year after year we’re asking the same question: if you take one, who do you pick? Do you take Mathis with his career .200 batting average and better catching abilities or Nap with his power bat and below average defense? Scioscia can’t seem to make up his mind so he just platoons between both.

Joe Saunders

2010 needs to be a bounce-back year for all of the Angels’ rotation, and after pitching most of 2009 injured, Saunders threw extremely well down the stretch last year, winning his last 7 decisions on the year. He has the most momentum of any pitcher going into this year and is probably 2nd in line behind Jered Weaver for being this year’s Opening Day starter. He has a 33-14 record over his last 2 seasons and is one of the more composed pitchers on the team, and he’ll have to set the tone again this year in order for himself and the rest of the staff as a whole to be successful.

Kendry Morales

Don’t expect similar numbers to last year. Managers are going to know how to approach pitching to KMo this year, and that may mean a healthy dose of curveballs headed his way. While he could turn on a high heater with the best of them, he struggled hitting breaking balls, and until he learns how to sit and wait on pitches, you may be seeing a decline in production after his breakout 2009 campaign.

Spring Training is here and Opening Day is only 45 days away.

Here’s to a successful 2010 season, Angel fans!

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Kazmir Impressing After First 2 Starts

kazmir

Before the waiver deadline last month, the Angels were hoping to find an arm somewhere in the MLB that could help solidify a struggling Angels rotation.

Scott Kazmir, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, turned out to be that guy, despite having a rough year up until the time of him changing scenery.

Don’t look too deeply into the new hurler’s 0-1 record with the Angels after 2 starts, the record misleads Kazmir’s contributions completely.

He’s faced one of the American League’s best pitchers and a potential Cy Young award-winner in Félix Hernández in both of his starts (14-5 record, 2.61 ERA), and has received virtually no run support in return (offense has produced 3 total runs in his 2 starts).

Here are Kaz’s numbers for his first two starts in Halo red:

September 2nd @ Seattle – 6.1 innings/3 hits/2 runs (1 earned)/1 walk/8 strikeouts (loss – 3-0 final)

September 8th vs. Seattle – 7 innings/3 hits/1 earned run/2 walks/4 strikeouts (no decision – 3-2 final)

His numbers combined through his first 2 starts are:

13 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts

He has now gone 6 or more innings in 10 of his last 11 starts.

He has allowed 1 earned run in each of his last 3 starts (best streak of the season).

Despite a rough first few months for the 25-year-old Kazmir, he’s apparently saved his best baseball for when it matters most… crunch time.

It looks like Kazmir seems rejuvenated to be pitching with a contender since the Rays have fallen off in the past few weeks, and you have to love the composure he brought in his first start.

After an error, a walk, and a hit batter (Kazmir’s first 3 batters he faced as an Angel), it seemed like the Angels made an awful decision to bring him in… at first glance.

How would he respond?

3 straight strikeouts to end the inning. No runs. No damage done. Inning over. Whew!

And he’s been sensational ever since. His walk-to-strikeout ratio has been outstanding. His control has been great. And he seems to have garnered a new sense of self-confidence that he hasn’t had since the Rays made their improbable run to the World Series just a year ago.

For better or worse, pitching is contagious. For a decent portion of the year, pitching has been unfavorably contagious for the Angels’ rotation as well as their bullpen.

Now that September has rolled around, and Kazmir has injected a little bit of new life into this Halo rotation, I’m hoping his positive starts can continue to influence Jered Weaver (14 wins entering tonight’s start), Joe Saunders (3 straight wins), John Lackey (17 innings, 1 earned run in last 2 starts), and most importantly Ervin Santana (5 straight starts of 3 or fewer earned runs until his last start).

Hopefully, the best from this Angels rotation is yet to come.

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Filed under Angel Stories, September Game Recaps

More Than an Average Joe?

average joe

2008 was a fluke. There’s no way that guy pitches anywhere near the way he did last year. He’s nothing special.

Those were the grumblings Joe Saunders was hearing entering the 2009 season for the Angels, and I didn’t believe a word any of those critics had to say. For showing great composure and dependability in ’08, I thought they were just plain crazy for saying that.

Coming off of a surprise 2008 season that featured him being selected to the American League All-Star team, the expectations were high for Saunders, who was tabbed as the Opening Day starter for Mike Scioscia and the Angels.

Saunders finished the ’08 season with a 17-7 record and a 3.41 ERA, over 1 run less than his ERA for the 2007 season (3.44).

His Opening Day start against Oakland was nothing short of brilliant. Saunders scattered a mere 3 hits over 6 2/3 fantastic innings of scoreless baseball en route to an opening day 3-0 shutout of the visiting Athletics.

Joe would start the year by winning 6 of his first 8 decisions, while keeping his ERA at a pretty respectable mark of 3.26 through the first two months of baseball.

Then he would hit a prolonged speedbump.

His 6.06 ERA in the month of June was nearly twice as high as his ERA for the month before (3.12).

July would be even worse. His 8.08 ERA over the course of July would be more than 2 full runs higher than his dismal June numbers.

Saunders would hit a streak that ran all the way up to 8 straights starts in which he allowed 4 or more runs in a given outing (4 runs twice, 5 runs 3 times, 6 runs twice, 8 runs once).

His ERA would just about double over the course of three months, and it was starting to seem like Saunders’ critics somehow saw something bad in him that many Angel fans including myself didn’t see.

His August 7th outing would last not even 2 full innings, but Joe would still allow 5 earned runs.

Maybe he was just an “average Joe” after all.

Following that start, Saunders was placed on the Disabled List due to shoulder soreness that had been troubling him for a majority of the season. His tight throwing shoulder wouldn’t allow him to fully extend and follow through comfortably like he normally does with his mechanics, which led to decreased velocity and leaving way too many pitches hanging out over the middle of the plate.

Saunders would come off the DL and make his 1st start on August 26th at home against the Detroit Tigers. He’d throw 89 pitches over a carefully shortened outing that lasted 5 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits while striking out 6 Detroit hitters. The Halos won the game 4-2, with Saunders the winning pitcher.

Joe would stifle the Mariners in Seattle in his next outing, throwing 7 innings of 3-hit scoreless baseball en route to a 10-0 Angels win. Saunders would, obviously, be the winning hurler in this contest.

His last outing against Kansas City would be his weakest ever since his return from the DL, but he’d still minimize the damage incredibly well. Saundo would scatter 2 runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings of work, but would earn the win in a 7-2 Angels victory.

Since he’s come off the DL, Joe’s done nothing but win the Angels ballgames while allowing no more than 2 runs an outing. He’s given up 2 runs or less in each of his 3 starts since coming off the Disabled List. His previous 14 starts would feature only 2 outings where he would allow 2 runs or less.

He now has his ERA below 5.00 for the first time since July 22nd.

As much attention has been paid to the recent acquisition of Scott Kazmir and how he may be the missing piece that can solidify the Angels’ rotation, I think people are continuing to overlook the guy who was the Halos’ Opening Day starter.

Saunders doesn’t have to be the ace of the staff. Jered Weaver‘s had a fantastic year. John Lackey‘s rounding back in to form in a contract year. They can take care of occupying the #1 and #2 starter slots in the 5-man rotation. Saunders, if healthy and pitching the way he has the past few outings, could be a fantastic #3 starter to throw at teams.

It’s been a roller coaster year for the only Virginia Tech alum in all of the MLB, but if he can channel his 2008 style of pitching, rhythm, and composure, Joe will be the missing piece to the Angels’ jigsaw puzzle.

Not “can be”, he will be.

Time to prove the critics wrong one more time.

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Filed under Angel Stories, August Game Recaps, September Game Recaps

First Half Report

The Angels now have 81 games in the books following last night’s 9-4 win over the Texas Rangers, and the Halos find themselves where they usually have been at the halfway mark over the past few seasons… in first place.

At this point last year, the Angels (who would go on to win a club record and MLB-best 100 games), were 48-33. This year’s Angels, with all the ups and downs, would only be 2 games off that pace with a record of 46-35.

The Halos have won the AL West division 4 of the past 5 years, so being #1 isn’t all that new to them.

But this year, things are much different. It was a year of big changes and adaptation for the Angels.

Preseason

Noteworthy Re-signings:

  • OF- Juan Rivera (3 yrs./$12.75 million)
  • OF- Vladimir Guerrero (1 yr. club option/$15 million)
  • SP- John Lackey (1 yr. club option/$9 million)
  • 3B- Chone Figgins (1 yr./$5.775 million)
  • SP- Ervin Santana (4 yrs./$30 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • SP- Joe Saunders (1 yr./$0.475 million) – 2008 All-Star selection
  • 2B- Howie Kendrick (1 yr./$.0465 million)
  • SP- Jered Weaver (1 yr./$0.465 million)
  • INF- Maicer Izturis (1 yr./$1.6 million)
  • RP- Darren Oliver (1 yr./3.665 million)

Noteworthy Additions:

  • CL- Brian Fuentes (2 yrs./$17.5 million) – 3-time All-Star with Rockies in ’05, ’06, ’07 seasons
  • OF- Bobby Abreu (1 yr./$5 million) – .300 batting average, .405 on-base percentage for his career

Noteworthy Subtractions:

  • 1B- Mark Teixeira (Yankees – 8 yrs./$180 million) – .358 avg., 13 HR, 43 RBI with Angels in 54 games
  • CL- Francisco Rodriguez (Mets – 3 yrs./$37 million) – MLB record 62 saves in ’08, 194 saves in 4 full seasons as closer, 208 total saves with Angels, won 5 games in ’02 postseason as 20-year-old phenom
  • OF- Garret Anderson (Braves – 1 yr./$2.5 million) – Was an Angel for 15 years, 2,368 hits, 489 2B, 272 HR, 1,292 RBI with Angels, starter in left field for ’02 World Championship team

To this current point in time, the Angels haven’t exactly had that gold-paved road to the top of the division, that they’ve seemed to have in years past. Injuries decimated the Angels’ rotation to start the year, and an unexpected tragedy would rock the Angels organization and the baseball world in the opening month.

April

Month record: 9-12

Highest point: 1-0 (the only time during the month they had over a .500 record was after the Opening Day win)

Lowest point: 6-11

3+ Game Winning Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 26, 28, 29)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (April 17-19)

April Player of the Month: Torii Hunter (.325 avg./.379 OBP/8 HR/16 RBI)

A look back on April

It all started great, nothing like an Opening Day shutout of an in-state division rival. Joe Saunders would dazzle in the April 6th season opener, en route to a 3-0 Halo win against the visiting Oakland A’s.

The A’s would take game 2, and then the bullpen would blow a tremendous outing (soon to become a recurring theme) from young hurler Nick Adenhart in game 3 of the series, a game in which he threw 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 5 Oakland batters.

But just hours after that April 8th Angels loss, the Angels would be dealt a loss that no one saw coming.

In the early hours of April 9th, that same Nick Adenhart who threw 6 magnificent innings for the Halos in his season debut, would be killed by a drunk driver, as well as 2 of the other 3 people in the car. He was only 22 years old. This was a kid who you just knew was going to be special. At 22 and having good, yet still improving control of a knee-buckling curveball complimented by a mid-90s fastball, as well as having composure and resiliency on the mound… not many come around like that, especially that early in a career. He was exuding with promise. Such a promising career that I believe in all my heart he was going to have, now is just a “what could have been” thought.

The final game of the series against Oakland was postponed in wake of the tragedy.

It just put baseball on the shelf and really put into perspective what’s important in life.

The Angels’ first game following Adenhart’s death would be Friday April 10th against the Red Sox. Before the game, the Angels put together a brief video in memory of Nick Adenhart that I thought was pretty neat, and you can hear (as well as not hear for the moment of silence) the fan appreciation for the fallen Angel.

It still kills me to see that face following the end of the “Calling All Angels” video that the Halos play just about 5-7 minutes before the first pitch of every home game at the Big A.

In that game against Boston, Jered Weaver, who was scheduled to move in and room with Nick Adenhart within the week, was the scheduled starter. When he was removed from the game in 7th inning after throwing 6 2/3 ball where he allowed 1 unearned run, he pointed up to the sky on his way back to the dugout, as if he was saying, “this one’s for you, Nick.” They’d win the game 6-3.

The rest of the month would come with it’s fair share of anemic bats and horrendous bullpen work.

It would also take the Angels the longest amount of time to string together back-to-back wins, becoming the last team in Major League Baseball to do so (wins on April 26th, 28th).

The overall character, resiliency and companionship of the Angels’ organization was tested early by having all-stars John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Vladimir Guerrero all on the DL at the same time to go along with Kelvim Escobar among others. Then with the additional blow of losing a teammate, the Angels showed incredible heart to finish the month at 9-12, a success in my honest opinion.

I think a lot of that reflects upon Mike Scioscia and the way he runs his team. He treats his major league squad not as a team, but as a family. It was a month that I believed would go 1 of 2 ways: the Angels fold completely or they rise up and persevere.

Towards the end of April, perseverance was beginning to break through.

May

Month record: 16-12 (25-24 overall)

Highest point: At 18-15, Halos had won 9 of their previous 11 games.

Lowest point: 9-13 to start the month, tough 10-9 loss to the Yankees to begin May.

3+  Game Winning Streaks: 2– 3 games (May 2, 4, 5), 4 games (May 7-10)

3+ Game Losing Streaks: 1– 3 games (May 15-17)

May Player of the Month: Matt Palmer (6 starts/4-0 record/1 blown lead/3.76 ERA/26 K)

A look back on May

To sum it up quickly, May was a very “up-and-down” month for the Halos. Right when you think they’re picking it up and starting to play quality baseball, they go on and lose 2 or 3 in a row. And then, right when you think they’re stuck in a rut, they go on and win 2, 3, or 4 in a row.

Their hottest hitter, Torii Hunter, continued to kill the ball for the Halos game in and game out, recording 26 RBI during the month of May. Had it not been for Hunter making up for the lack of a clean-up hitter (Vladdy on the DL), who knows where the Angels who have been after May, and even now into early July.

But Torii’s stellar player was not even close to being the story of the month.

No doubt about it, the story of the month would be that of 30-year-old rookie right-hander Matt Palmer.

Palmer, a journeyman for years in the minor leagues who could never seem to get his shot with a major league ballclub, contemplated giving the game up altogether at one point. Although it took some convincing, Matt’s wife Michelle convinced him to keep giving baseball a try (Matt wanted to start a landscaping business if baseball didn’t work out for him in his hometown of Caruthersville, Missouri… a small town of just over 6,000 people!).

He would break through with the San Francisco Giants in 2008, and have 3 rough outings, prompting the Giants to let him go after the ’08 season.

The Halos would sign him as a minor league free agent in January of 2009, and by the end of May, Palmer would find himself to be 5-0 to begin his Angels career. Palmer still continues to wear his wedding ring underneath his glove as a reminder of why he’s still on the mound.

The Angels’ play of the year, and a top candidate for the top play in all of Major League Baseball to this point in the season came in the 9th inning of a 1-run game against the Royals on May 10th from Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. Check out the video below to see his absolutely incredible grab.

As much as the ground he covered and the catch itself are just flat-out remarkable, you can’t help but love the passion, fire and competitiveness and that Torii shows after the catch. That’s what baseball is all about.

June

Month record: 17-9 (42-33 overall)

Highest point: 42-32 (highest amount of games over .500 all year to that point)

Lowest point: 29-29 (Scioscia would give the team a tongue-lashing, and would finish the month by going 13-4)

3+ Game Winning streaks: 3– 3 games (June 3-5), 7 games (June 12-17, 19), 6 games (June 23-24, 26-29)

3+ Game Losing streaks: 1– 3 games (June 20-22)

Player of the Month: Juan Rivera (.290 avg./29 hits/6 2B/8 HR/24 RBI)

A look back on June

July would mark the start of the Angels… well, playing like the Angels. While relying on small ball to win in May (36 doubles, 20 home runs, 37 stolen bases), the Angels would start pounding the ball and playing uncharacteristic long ball (53 doubles, 33 home runs, 15 stolen bases), en route to their most successful month of the season.

Juan Rivera would no doubt be the hottest hitter of the month with his aforementioned June statistics, but guys like Torii Hunter (9 XBH), Bobby Abreu (10 XBH) and Kendry Morales (15 XBH) would compliment Rivera’s hot hitting with some consistent extra-base hitting of their own.

The Halos would rack up 2 impressive winning streaks (7 games and 6 games respectively) and really start to hit their stride on their way to getting as high as 10 games over .500.

Pitching stayed solid and consistent, and meanwhile, the arms of the bullpen seemed to have settled in and really calmed down after a rocky 2 months to start the season (thankfully).

Matt Palmer’s remarkable run would continue, with him ending June with a 7-1 record in 11 starts.

But Jered Weaver would no doubt be the Halos’ best pitcher through the first 3 months. Weaver would compile a record of 8-3 by June’s end, and post one of the MLB’s lowest ERAs with a mark of 2.65. To compliment his ERA, his command would be nothing short of outstanding all the way through June by recording 83 strikeouts to only 32 walks.

Brian Fuentes would sit atop the MLB with the most saves (22) at June’s end, going 9-for-9 in save opportunities over the course of the month.

June would also mark the end of Interleague Play. The Halos would post the top record in the MLB against the opposing league, by going 14-4 against National League teams (11-1 against teams not named the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Player Grades

Now that we’re in early July, let’s take a look at some 1st half stats and grade some players:

(bold statistics indicate team-high)

(* denotes All-Star selection)

All statistics are as of the first 81 games.

Torii Hunter *- .307 avg./.382 OBP/86 H/56 R/19 2B/1 3B/17 HR/65 RBI/13 SB

Grade A+

The Angels’ MVP, no questions asked. He’s done everything for the Halos so far. He’s hit for average (.307 avg.). He’s hit for power (37 extra-base hits). He’s driven in runs (65 RBI is 5th in all of the MLB). He’s stolen bases (13). And like the typical Torii Hunter always does, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense game in and game out. He picked up the slack for the offense when Vladdy Guerrero was out for over a month, and is one of the first-half MVPs for the American League, no doubt. And talk about a clubhouse leader, he handled everything regarding the Adenhart tragedy so well, and really rallied his team to stick together and face everything with a smile and a positive attitude. It’s really hard to measure the impact that Torii Hunter has had on this team, because his impact reaches far beyond the playing field and stat sheets.

Chone Figgins– .311 avg./.393 OBP/97 H/63 R/16 2B/5 3B/1 HR/25 RBI/24 SB

Grade: A

He’s been the table setter for the Angels’ offense this year, and has really developed his plate discipline since the end of last season, and Bobby Abreu’s presence and influence seems to be the main reason why. For his career, Figgy has an on-base percentage of .359, and this season alone, he’s on pace to post a new career high with a current mark of .393. His defense has been spectacular at 3rd base and should be in the consideration for a Gold Glove, no doubt. He’s getting on base, he’s stealing bases, and he’s scoring runs. The Angels go as Figgy goes. If he scores at least 1 run, the Angels have a remarkably higher record compared to when he doesn’t score a run in a game. You get an A from me Chone, and deserved an All-Star nod in my honest opinion.

Bobby Abreu- .302 avg./.405 OBP/83 H/45 R/16 2B/2 3B/6 HR/51 RBI/17 SB

Grade: A-

Talk about a steal and a bargain. I was hoping and praying that the Angels would go after Abreu, because he’s the type of #2 hitter that Mike Scioscia had been begging the front office to get for years. A guy who, over his career, is a .300 hitter and has an OBP of over .400, Bobby is right at his career levels at the midway point of the year. He’s stealing plenty of bases too, so he’s still got some wheels despite being 35 years of age. He’s played adequate defense in right field, but more importantly, has been able to compliment Figgy’s high on-base percentage with that of his own, which sets up run-producing situations for Torii, Vlad, Kendry, Juan etc. Although Abreu doesn’t have his typical home run numbers (6, but averages roughly 20 per season over the course of his career), he’s been worth every penny.

Juan Rivera.312 avg./.353 OBP/87 H/34 R/15 2B/0 3B/14 HR/50 RBI/0 SB

Grade: A-

I wrote an article on Juan a number of weeks ago talking about how this is his first year being back as an everyday player for the Angels after a few years of being the odd-man out in the stacked Angels outfield. I was thrilled to hear that the Angels inked him for 3 years in the offseason, because he can be a productive hitter when given regular at-bats. He’s impressed me every bit so far this year. He’s been on a power surge after a slow start (home run-wise) and has been driving in runs, all while leading the Angels in batting average with a .312 mark. His defense has been solid in left field as it usually is, and I hope Juan can continue his success because he played the role of a true professional the past couple of years; knowing he could be easily getting everyday at-bats while he wasn’t and not making a scene about it like Jose Guillen did years ago… it’s a feeling of clarity for the man.

Brian Fuentes*- 24 saves/3 BS/3.38 ERA

Grade: A-

After blowing a save in his 2nd appearance as an Angel, Fuentes has calmed down and performed nicely late in games lately, converting on 11 straight save opportunities, as well as 18 of his last 19 save situations. I was a little shaky on him early on, but then again, the whole bullpen was imploding before Angel fans’ eyes. He’s been mowing down opponents lately, and with his league-leading 24 saves, made the All-Star team in his first year as a Halo.

Jered Weaver9-3 record/3.15 ERA/114.1 IP/95 K/12 QS

Grade: A-

As you can see, Weaver’s the team leader in every major pitching category (most wins, lowest ERA among starters, most strikeouts, most quality starts). Over the years, Weaver had been the kind of pitcher who would run his pitch count up towards 100 early, and have his night be finished after the 5th inning. This year, he’s done a much better job of controlling his pitching, to where he can pitch deeper into ballgames (recorded his first career shutout back on June 14th against San Diego). He’s been much more composed than in years past too, where sometimes his emotions used to get the best of him. He’s a special pitcher with good stuff, and has far exceeded my expectations this year by being the most consistent pitcher the Halos have to throw out, and he’s not only acted, but also performed like a legitimate #1 starter for the Angels as well.

Kendry Morales– .285 avg./.340 OBP/80 H/37 R/23 2B/2 3B/14 HR/45 RBI/0 SB

Grade: B+

Talk about coming in with some big shoes to fill. KMo had to fill the void of All-Star slugger Mark Teixeira, who opted for the New York Yankees and the 8 years and $180 million dollars they threw at him. A raw talent from Cuba with great power from both sides of the plate, Kendry has done a better job than I thought he would do. He leads the team in extra-base hits (39), and to my surprise, has played pretty good defense at 1st base for the most part. As long as he continues to hit well in the 5 or 6 hole in the lineup, the Angels will continue to have a steady attack if guys like Vladdy, Torii and Bobby continue to get on base. For having such high expectations, he’s responded incredibly well and has produced much more than I could’ve imagined going into the ’09 season.

Matt Palmer– 7-1 record/4.88 ERA/70.1 IP/42 K/4 QS

Grade: B+

What a story Matt Palmer has turned out to be. Right when Mike Scioscia needed to find another starter, when he could’ve thrown a talented young arm into the regular rotation, he took a chance on a 30-year-old journeyman… and Matt Palmer has made Scioscia’s decision look nothing short of brilliant. He won his first 6 decisions, and has been eating up innings for the Angels as a starter, and has even appeared in relief in 3 games. They say “all good things must come to an end”, but for Matt Palmer, he has been defying that old saying for just about 3 months now.

Maicer Izturis- .303 avg./.351 OBP/56 H/37 R/9 2B/3 3B/2 HR/26 RBI/7 SB

Grade: B+

He’s been a space-filler for most of his tenure with the Angels, but now people are really taking note of how Maicer’s play is deserving of making him an everyday player for Mike Scioscia. Consistent with the bat, and clutch when you need him to be, Maicer’s been very productive through the first half of the season, all while playing impeccable defense at shortstop and 2nd base. Now with Howie Kendrick back from the minors (yet still sputtering), I hope that Maicer won’t find himself as the odd man out again, because he has played far better than Erick Aybar has at the plate and in the field. I’d take my chances with Maicer over Aybar any day.

Erick Aybar– .271 avg./.314 OBP/60 H/26 R/11 2B/2 3B/2 HR/22 RBI/5 SB

Grade: B/B-

Aybar and Izturis create the problem at shortstop that Napoli and Mathis create behind the plate… who to start? Aybar is lightning fast and may be one of the most athletic shortstops in all of the league, but is a streaky hitter whose defense can be erratic at times. While Izturis doesn’t have the speed, range or athleticism that Aybar has, he is a much more consistent hitter at the plate, and is one of the more clutch hitters the Angels have to offer with runners in scoring position. Izturis has impressed me more than Aybar, but when Aybar goes on a tear, look out.

Joe Saunders– 8-5 record/4.44 ERA/107.1 IP/61 K/9 QS

Grade: B-

Coming off an All-Star year where he went 17-7, expectations were high for the former Virginia Tech Hokie. He started the year by throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball en route to an Opening Day shutout, and would move on to compile a 6-2 record at one point. But recently, he hasn’t quite had his pinpoint command, thus giving him his B- grade. He’s put forth 9 quality starts, but the rising ERA is worrisome. He’ll have one more start in all likelihood before the All-Star break, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does following the break. Entering the All-Star break last year, he would go 5-2, but have his fair share of rough outings. We’ll see how he responds, but as of now, he’s been fading quite a bit.

Mike Napoli – .288 avg./.376 OBP/55 H/28 R/10 2B/0 3B/10 HR/30 RBI/2 SB

Grade: C+/C

Pretty good stats for Nap with limited at-bats, so why the low grade, you ask? The defense. Napoli and Mathis foil each other perfectly. Napoli can hit the ball and get on base, but can’t play good defense. Mathis can’t hit the ball or get on base, but plays very good defense. Put them together, and they’d create the unstoppable catcher! Too bad that can’t happen or the Angels would be a juggernaut. Nap’s quietly batted .288 and still works his way on base with pretty good plate discipline, but after this year, management has a decision to make with who to keep and who to let go (if any). Both of their contracts are up following this season… will they stick with one or platoon both like they have this season and last season? Time will tell.

Jeff Mathis – .205 avg./.295 OBP/25 H/17 R/3 2B/0 3B/3 HR/19 RBI/0 SB

Grade: C-

Had it not been for his good defense behind the plate, he’d be a D- or an F. Mathis’ poor hitting continues despite hitting well in Spring Training (.340 avg./6 2B/4 HR/13 RBI in only 54 at-bats). He’s done a great job of calling games and has played waaaaaaay better defense than Mike Napoli this year. I just don’t know how much longer I can give Mathis the benefit of the doubt by saying “well, his defense makes up for it”… because his hitting has been nonexistent ever since he’s been in the majors.

Howie Kendrick – .227 avg./.275 OBP/45 H/26 R/7 2B/2 3B/4 HR/22 RBI/7 SB

Grade: D-

What an unexpected disappointment. After hitting .285, .322., and .306 in his first 3 years in the MLB, his .227 average just came out of nowhere. After being a .360+ average hitter in the minors, his hitting translated well through his first 3 seasons, but has dramatically dropped off so much that Mike Scioscia sent him down to AAA Salt Lake for 3 weeks to find his swing. His defense hasn’t been all that great either, which opened the door for Maicer Izturis, and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity. Kendrick doesn’t deserve to start at this point, in my opinion, but it’s Mike Scioscia’s opinion, not mine, that matters.

Vladimir Guerrero hasn’t had enough at-bats for me to give him a fair grade, but he’s been picking up the pace ever since he shaved his head (good idea, because those dreads were getting a little nasty!). He’s starting to look like the Vlad of old, and the Big Daddy has been racking up the extra-base hits over the past week, which is a welcome sign to Halo fans as well as the rest of the lineup.

John Lackey has been regaining his stuff over the past few starts and is looking like the Lackey of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Ervin Santana has been on and off of the DL this year, but has struggled mightily in his starts.

Still 81 more games to go, but so far, the Angels have faced a lot of adversity, and have done the most that they’ve been able to do with the hand they’ve been dealt.

I still truly believe their best baseball is in front them.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, April Game Recaps, June Game Recaps, May Game Recaps

Angels Enjoying Interleague Success

aybar lackey abreuWith only 3 games left to go in Interleague play, the Angels are wishing it didn’t have to end so soon.

The Halos hold the MLB’s top Interleague mark at 11-4 against the National League, and are a game below .500 at 27-28 against all other American League teams.

Interleague play started off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a Freeway Series at Chavez Ravine back in late May. The Halos would take 2 of 3 from the Blue Crew before playing 9 of their next 15 games on the road against American League teams.

Over that 15 game stretch, the Halos would sputter by going 6-9. They would take 2 of 3 at Toronto, their only series win over this 15-game span, but drop 2 of 3 to both the White Sox and Mariners at home as well as 2 of 3 to the Tigers and Rays, each on the road.

Then Interleague play came back, just in the knick of time for Mike Scioscia’s club who now sat at an even .500 with a record of 29-29.

Scioscia would give his players a tongue-lashing following their enormous 11-1 loss in the final game of a 3-game set in Tampa Bay.

Pitching had been awful (John Lackey had 9 ER in that 11-1 in loss), and all pitchers, starters and relievers alike, were just in a funk of walking batters with ease.

Hitting had been sporadic at times, but was just poor altogether to be brutally honest.

The Angels headed back to the friendly confines of the Big A, hoping that some home cooking would do the trick to get them out of the funk that they had been mired in for about half a month.

That would be just the case.

Or maybe it was just because the Padres are just plain bad.

Either way, the Halos would sweep the Padres in a 3-game set which the Angels outscored San Diego 26-7.

Game 1 featured home runs from Torii Hunter and Kendry Morales, while also pushing Matt Palmer’s season record to a surprising 6-0.

Torii Hunter would record his 1st career 3 home run game in game 2 which the Angels would win 9-1 backed by a solid effort from starter Joe Saunders. Saunders would throw 8 1/3 dazzling innings of 1-run ball, while striking out 5 Padres hitters.

Game 3 would be all Jered Weaver, who would throw his first career shutout in a 6-0 win for the Halos, moving his record to 7-2, and lowering his ERA to an incredible 2.08.

The Angels would then travel up to the Bay Area for a 3-game series with the San Francisco Giants. The Halos were coming in hot, hitting an uncharacteristic 9 home runs in their series with San Diego.

The Angels would pick up where they left off, blasting 6 home runs in the first 2 games, winning both contests 9-7 and 8-1 respectively.

The Giants would throw out 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum for the final game of the series, and he was tough as nails on the hot Halo offense through the first 7 innings. But the Angels, entering the 8th inning trailing 3-1, would tax Lincecum for 3 runs in the half-inning, and would end up closing out the game by a score of 4-3, securing themselves of their 2nd consecutive sweep of an NL West opponent.

The Angels would come back to Anaheim riding a 6-game winning streak thanks to their all-of-a-sudden hot offense, and were set to take on the Dodgers at home.

The Halos would win game 1 5-4, a game that I was fortunate enough to be at. Over the years, this Angels/Dodgers rivalry has begun to grow more intense, and on that night of game 1 of the Freeway Series in Anaheim, the Big A was electric with fan energy.

Before the first pitch was even thrown, all you could hear were fans chanting, “Let’s go Angels!” and “Let’s go Dodgers!” The crowd was into it from the first pitch, all the way until the final out in the 9th recorded by Brian Fuentes. The general dislike between the two teams was tangible, and that made the atmosphere of this game one of the best that I’ve ever been a part of (and that includes Adam Kennedy’s 3-homer game against Minnesota in the 2002 ALCS as well as World Series Game 1).

The cross-town Dodgers would break the Angels’ season-long 7-game winning streak and nail down the final 2 games against the Angels including the incredibly hyped-up “Battle of the Brothers” featuring Jeff Weaver of the Dodgers and Jered Weaver of the Angels. Jeff would get the better of his younger brother en route to a 6-4 win, and Clayton Kershaw would throw 7 spectacular innings of shutout ball in game 3, resulting in a 5-3 Dodger victory.

The Angels took 2 of 3 from the visiting red-hot Colorado Rockies (who had entered the series winning a remarkable 16 of their past 17 games). The Rockies killed the Angels 11-1 game 1, but the Angels rallied to win 4-3 in game 2, and would whoop the Rockies in the finale by an 11-3 final.

The Angels have now gone 9-3 in their last 12 games, all against NL competition.

The Halos travel to the Valley of the Sun next to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks for a 3-game series (hopefully they’ll close the roof at Chase Field considering temperatures are forecasted to be 100+ for all 3 days), hoping to build on their overall Interleague success.

The Angels are now in a tie for 1st place for the first time since the early goings of the season. Go Halos!

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, June Game Recaps

Angels Find Power Surge

hunter 3 homersFor years, Southern California residents have seen those “Flex Your Power” commercials on TV.

Over their current 4 game winning streak, the Angels finally got that memo.

Season after season, the Angels have always been one of the best teams in team batting average, but at the same time have been one of the worst home run hitting teams in the major leagues, and entering their 3-game series with San Diego, the Halos dead last in the American League in total team home runs.

When the Padres came in to town, the light went on. They flexed their power, and it’s now spilled into a series by the bay.

In Friday’s game against San Diego, the Angels hit 2 home runs. Torii Hunter blasted his 13th homer of the season and Kendry Morales jacked his 10th in an 11-6 whooping of the Padres.

Then on Saturday, Torii Hunter and the Halos erupted to blast 5 homers off the Padres’ pitching staff. Torii had his 1st career 3 home run game, pushing his season home run total to 16. Kendry Morales hit his 10th, and Jeff Mathis hit his elusive 1st home run of the year in a game the Angels ended up winning by a comfortable 9-1 margin.

In the final game against the Padres on Sunday, the Angels didn’t slow up, or should I say Juan Rivera didn’t slow up. Juanito hit 2 home runs, giving him a total of 8 on the year. The Angels would shutout the Pads 6-0 in a game that featured Jered Weaver earn his first career shutout, allowing only 5 hits.

The Angels totaled 9 home runs in the 3-game set, after hitting only 42 in the previous 58 games (0.72 home runs per game).

Then they traveled up for a series in San Francisco with the Giants, and they carried their newfound power with them.

In Monday’s contest, when it was all said and done, the Angels tallied 4 more home runs against Barry Zito and company. Juan Rivera hit his 8th, Erick Aybar hit his 2nd, Bobby Abreu hit his 3rd in a back-to-back homer effort with Aybar, and in his 1st start of the season, Sean Rodriguez laced his 1st home run of the season. The Angels would win it (although the bullpen found a way to make it interesting yet again) by a score of 9-7, taking the 1st of a 3-game set.

What could be the reason for this power surge of home runs and offensive production? I can’t be too certain to tell you the truth.

However, prior to that 3-game set with the lowly Padres, Mike Scioscia had given the Angels an absolute tongue lashing, telling his pitching to step up, and more importantly, he told his hitters to start producing, or else (he already demoted Howie Kendrick to AAA to find his swing). Entering the 3-game set against San Diego the Angels had also dropped 4 of their last 5 games.

So far, it’s safe to say that the starting pitchers have taken Scioscia’s words to heart, given the fact that the last 3 starters (Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and John Lackey respectively) have each gone at least 7 innings and given up less than 3 runs.

And the hitters have no doubt made noise with the bats. It’s as if someone corked all of the Halos’ bats recently, blasting 13 home runs during their current 4-game winning streak. As a matter of fact, the Angels have hit nearly 1/4 of their home runs on the season in the past 4 games alone!

So who says Southern California needs to conserve their power?

The Angels are powering the southland with no signs of slowing up.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, June Game Recaps